KOTA KINABALU, MALAYSIA – Japan made its belated debut Tuesday as the 12th member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations in Malaysia after a four-month wait since announcing its intention to join the talks on creating one of the world’s largest free-trade areas.
Japan was allowed to join after the U.S., the leading TPP economy, completed domestic procedures.
“We received a warm welcome from the negotiators of the 11 countries,” said Japan’s deputy chief negotiator, Hiroshi Oe, after the day’s sessions ended.
Oe indicated the first session was largely procedural, with the 11 other countries familiarizing Japan with the functions of the chief negotiator session overlooking working group sessions and the agreement not to disclose the content of negotiations.
A working group on the environment, the first group joined by a Japanese negotiator, and another on intellectual property reported to the chief negotiators during the session, he said.
With only three days left in the latest round, being held in the Malaysian resort of Kota Kinabalu, chief Japanese negotiator Koji Tsuruoka and his team will seek to fully use the time to negotiate the country’s interests.
“We will unite as one and do our best to realize the national interest,” said Tsuruoka as Japanese negotiators and lawmakers gathered at the venue Tuesday morning. “We aim to achieve results that will lead to the revival of the Japanese economy.”
TPP negotiations comprise 21 working groups covering 29 chapters, including market access covering tariff elimination, the key topic of interest for Japan.
While Japan seeks to eliminate trade barriers to boost exports of cars and other manufactured goods, the government has also pledged to protect its sensitive farm products, namely rice, wheat, beef, pork, dairy products and sugar, by retaining the tariffs it imposes on imports.
The working group on market access, however, finished its negotiations for this round last Friday, and Japanese negotiators can only take part in the talks on intellectual property, government procurements, rules of origin, environment, and legal and institutional matters.
But as the TPP members will be devoting Wednesday afternoon and the last day to briefing Japan on the current status of the negotiations and providing background information on accord texts, Japanese officials are hoping its negotiators can fully present the country’s positions.
Some TPP members have shown understanding of Japan’s intention to protect its agricultural industry, with a Vietnamese TPP official saying member states “should cooperate to explore solutions for the sensitive sectors that member countries think should be protected.”
The addition of Japan to the membership significantly raises the size of the envisioned pact. With Japan, TPP countries will account for nearly 40 percent of global gross domestic product and about one-third of all world trade.